Domestic violence most tolerated abuse


A woman walks out of a car and slams the door as she charges towards her home. The husband follows her in quick step and an argument ensues as he grabs her arm and handbag.

The husband slaps her across the face, and they both dash into their lodgings. The next thing neighbours hear are screams of a woman yelling for help.

A neighbour knocks at the door and husband opens. He immediately apologises about the scuffle with his wife, who unfortunately dies in her sleep that night.

The scene is not uncommon. These incidents happen all the time and they are generally tolerated and brushed off as a normal way of living.

One woman was battered to death for giving her husband cold sadza in a country where electricity has become a luxury for the few that have generators.

Another woman from Dzivarasekwa in Harare was also battered for leaving husband’s shoes at the doorstep which were then soaked by rain that fell a few days ago.

This man took off his shoes as he entered the house and expected his wife to pick them up. But she had already gone to bed when this man arrived after midnight.

This week, a story about a Zimbabwean woman who was killed by her live-in partner in the United States hit the headlines on a news site on the Internet.

Mthulisi Ndlovu (38) murdered Mary Mushapaidze (42) of Bonney Lake in Washington DC following an argument over dirty dishes in yet another tragic incident that has also shocked Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora.

However, his account of the fatal argument has been disputed by Mushapaidze’s friend who claimed the couple had been fighting over her unwillingness to return to Zimbabwe.

Mthulisi has been charged with first-degree murder with bail set at US$1 million. Ndlovu said that after realising Mushapaidze had passed on, he dragged her body into the garage and put her in a metal barrel. He burnt the body on a charcoal fire.

Domestic violence is a pervasive thing and it’s hidden. A lot of it goes on, but people unfortunately do not recognise it as domestic violence.

It is very much underreported, just like rape and incest. It can happen in marriages and in relationships of all kinds, including same-sex relationships.

Students have also reported violence at various tertiary institutions like universities and most of them are not aware this is happening.

But when that abuse is discovered, the survivor will usually turn down any offer for assistance. Some of the warning signs include yelling, threats and acts meant to purposely humiliate the other in public.

There also can be isolation of a partner from family or friends. Physical abuse includes hitting, punching, shoving, restraining, destroying property and choking. Abusive sexual behaviour is rape and any coercion or forcing of a partner to engage in sexual activity.

A lot of times in the past victims wouldn’t want to press charges because they feared repercussions. Zimbabwe has a law that criminalises domestic fights, but implementation is the major challenge.

Law enforcement agents still regard the crime as a private matter where action is only taken when a murder occurs.

Many decades ago, a Zimbabwean woman who was living in exile in Zambia, shot and killed her husband at close range as he took a bath one morning.

The woman was condemned to death by Zambian courts, but the then Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda made a ruling against that death penalty.

It later turned out that the woman had made several reports to local police in Lusaka but never received any attention.

The husband, a prominent lawyer, would hit her and leave her penniless as he travelled the world. He also brought and slept with girlfriends at the matrimonial home as the wife watched in despair.

According to Musasa Project, a local non-governmental organisation that deals with domestic violence, more than 60% of murder cases that go through the High Court in Harare are domestic related.

Musasa Project says at least one in three Zimbabweans was hooked up in a violent and abusive marital relationship. Victims often don’t complain.

Their partners may have instilled such fear in them that they don’t dare say anything. Or, they have become so inured to the manipulation and violence that they don’t recognise they are victims.

Sadly, it is often only when someone has become seriously hurt or has an emotional breakdown those friends, family members, or professionals even realise what is going on. But what causes domestic violence?

According to Psych Central, a website on the Internet, domestic violence may start when one partner feels the need to control and dominate the other.

Abusers may feel this need to control their partner because of low self-esteem, extreme jealousy, difficulties in regulating anger and other strong emotions, or when they feel inferior to the other partner in education and socioeconomic background.

Some men with very traditional beliefs may think they have the right to control women and that women aren’t equal to men because they pay bride price (lobola) for them.

“This domination then takes the form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Studies suggest that violent behaviour often is caused by an interaction of situational and individual factors. That means that abusers learn violent behaviour from their family, people in their community and other cultural influences as they grow up. They may have seen violence often or they may have been victims themselves.

“Children who witness or are the victims of violence may learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict between people. Boys who learn that women are not to be valued or respected and who see violence directed against women are more likely to abuse women when they grow up. Girls who witness domestic violence in their families of origin are more likely to be victimised by their own husbands.”